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4 Easy Tips for Cooking During Depression

How to Cook While Dealing with Depression

For my friends who have walked the journey of the last six months in my life, they know it has been full of wildly vacillating ups and downs. We moved from our old house (with a gorgeous kitchen)  to a different home. While the move wasn’t hard, no move is easy.

But it did involve a thousand different little choices.

  • Where should we put this chair?
  • Wait, we can’t put incoming mail four steps from the door like we used to…
  • Where should we store towels so it’s accessible to all bathrooms?
  • How do we store a lawnmower without having a shed?
  • Where do I put the wastebaskets?!

A few weeks after the move, my organization broke down. I had true decision fatigue. My kids were going through a rough transition, so I stuffed away most of my problems to help keep them together.

And then everything broke apart when I developed shingles over Thanksgiving. Between the pain and exhaustion of shingles – and the mental exhaustion of moving stress, funerals, my husband traveling, and other big life events – I shut down.

I have never experienced an exhaustion like shingles exhaustion. I remember my kids being out of the house and I needed to make lunch, so I decided to quickly fry an egg (which was the fastest form of protein I could think of making for lunch). By the time the butter had melted in the pan, I realized I had taken on too much. I managed to fry the egg, leaning against the stove to support my weight and then proceeded to eat it with my head laying on the table because I was too tired to hold my body upright.

bethany exhausted

As the days of bone-crippling exhaustion turned into weeks, I battled depression. It was a dark and difficult time.

The thought of feeding my family – from the work involved in prepping and cooking and cleaning up to the overwhelming decision fatigue of “what shall we eat?” — was enough to completely paralyze me.

Which is pretty humbling coming from someone who writes for a food blog.

RELATED: Do you have to love cooking to eat real food?

It was then that a dear friend stepped in and rescued me and my family. Her gift was so profound and blessed us so tremendously, I just had to share. Her advice was very basic and an easy four steps.

1. Make a List of 7 Meals

My family struggles with some sensory processing issues when it comes to food. When I find a meal that doesn’t revolt everyone in the family, I call that a win. If everyone tolerates it, I call it victory. I’m sure this burden of “would-my-family-eat-this?” didn’t help my decision fatigue.

So I made a list of the 7 meals I knew would feed everyone. Ironically, they are the only 7 winners in my recipe box (yes, you may weep with me). I gave myself permission to give up the quest for new recipes and the pressure of problem solving. 

I only needed 7.

4 easy tips you need to get dinner on the table while dealing with depression or sickness.

2. Assign Each Meal to a Day

If you read my post about the six styles of menu planning, you’ll know that we’re big on food themes around here, like Taco Tuesday. We might have chicken fajitas, beef carnitas, or taco salad – it all fits within the vein of Taco Tuesday. (Apologies to anyone who has seen the Lego Movie and just had “Everything Is Awesome” start pumping through your head.) wlEmoticon-winkingsmile.png

But in this phase of life, even figuring out an item within that theme was exhausting. I’d put off the decision until too late in the day, requiring us to rely upon my Emergency Meal List. Daily. Everything was NOT awesome. By assigning a meal to each day (Roast Chicken on Monday, Taco Salad on Tuesday, Spaghetti on Wednesday…), I eliminated the decision fatigue and also gave myself something to depend on. I knew what sort of work I would have ahead of me and I could pace myself accordingly.

3. Make Those Meals Into Freezer Meals

There are approximately 4 weeks in every month, so since we were eating the exact same meal every Wednesday, I knew that I could make a large batch of spaghetti, divide it into four meal-sized servings, and freeze it.

This was where my friend gave me the biggest gift. She said, “Give me your groceries and I will make half of your freezer meals.” I almost broke down crying with gratitude. She volunteered to take all my beef dishes, making Spaghetti Sauce, Taco Beef, Chili, and Homemade Hamburger Helper for a total of 16 dinners. She froze everything in meal-sized bags and labeled them.

I was tasked with the remaining three chicken dishes, which I was able to knock out in an afternoon of work because batch freezer cooking really does save SO much time. It only takes a few seconds more to make four of something than it does just one.

If you’re really struggling to get meals for your family, you should seriously consider the Instant Pot (an electric programmable pressure cooker that’s as easy to use as a slow cooker). You can read more about how it has revolutionized my life.

I make my own freezer meals and then — thanks to the Instant Pot’s technology — cook those meals directly from frozen… no thawing required.

messy kitchen

4. Repeat That Menu Every Week For a Month

There’s a small problem with freezer meals. You have to remember to THAW YOUR FOOD. To someone who is doing good to remember to put on pants, this can be a problem. (“Where are my paaaaaaants?” Sorry. Another Lego Movie reference.)

Because I know I’m doing a freezer meal every day, it’s easy for me to get into the groove of pulling out the next dinner before I go to bed. I’m remembering this daily task MUCH better than when I only sometimes did freezer meals.

Update: Nope, I really haven’t gotten much better at remembering to pull my meals out in advance. I’m extremely thankful that the Instant Pot can cook freezer meals directly from frozen. Phew.

How to Cook During Depression

Moving Forward

The days are getting brighter and better for us. I’m on a prescription-strength vitamin D that makes all the difference in the world. I’m working with doctors to root out other physical issues that came to the surface and the journey is long, but worth it. Meanwhile, my energy continues to improve.

Before this experience, I had some friends who would meal plan for a month at a time. I always thought they were crazy. “How do you know what you’re going to want for a month?! What if you have something come up? How could you possibly plan so much?!”

I’ve learned I don’t have to plan for a month. I only have to plan for a week.

And because I’m pulling food out the night before, if I know I have company coming I can just pull out more food.

I’m so, so, so thankful to my friend who saved our dinners and served my family in this way. I’m getting to the end of my first month’s stash and I plan to continue this method for awhile. Having a month’s worth of dinners prepped, cooked, and ready to go is a bigger blessing than I could have ever described.

If you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) you might want to check out Lori’s tips for dealing with SAD in the winter or about food causing depression. The tips are also perfect for depression or any other rough times.

What cooking strategies have you used in hard seasons? Have you been blessed by the gift of food – or been on the giving end?

Don’t let your kids be a statistic!

Download a free copy of 10 Foods to Fight Depression & Anxiety in Kids, and see what a difference the right foods can make in your family members’ moods.

This mini-ebook tells you 10 of the best foods you can feed your kids to build brains that are resilient to depression & anxiety & more. It includes ideas to USE each of the foods, and I hope you’ll get your kids involved in the preparation as well.

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

27 thoughts on “4 Easy Tips for Cooking During Depression”

  1. Susan Magnolia

    I am comforted when I hear people talk about decision fatigue. Thank for sharing your story.

    We have been eating from the same seven day dinner plan that I made with my daughter several months ago and we are all happy with it. I thought that I would get tired of it but I don’t at all. We chose foods that everyone likes and there is always room for a little variation.

    My partner and daughter really appreciate the consistency and I like knowing what I am buying and cooking with very little thought. Decision fatigue would set in around dinner time and now I always know that I will getting dinner on the table with much more ease. Now I am thinking that it may be nice to have the same kind of plans set in place for breakfast and lunch too!

  2. Samantha McDonald

    Thank you for sharing. I totally get it. When you’re going through a rough season of life even the simplest of decisions, like what to feed your family, can be overwhelming. When I don’t meal-plan we end up eating out a lot more and of course, unhealthy fast food, that makes me feel worse at the end of the day. In the past we’ve had theme days for each day of the week, ironically we had Taco Tuesday even before the LEGO movie came out, and my kids loved it! They love knowing what to expect and it does keep the evenings much less chaotic after a full day of work and school for me, my husband, and kids.

  3. What a great article. Thank you! (And here I thought I was the only one who cooked on a theme) thanks for giving me permission to repeat a weekly menu for a month.

  4. Thank you so much for the steps to make this manageable. I had a very difficult move a year ago and since then have had one injury and health problem after another. I’m about to have surgery (for one of the injuries) and was trying to figure out how to stash meals. We also have MANY food allergies so ordering out or having others make us meals is not an option. I now feel like I can do it. A month of food will be great. I’ll have to direct my husband to make the second month when the time comes to finish my recovery. Thanks so much!

  5. This way of thinking is also good for getting everything done when you just have too much on your plate, like homeschooling and pregnant or a single mom/mom with a husband gone over the road or overseas.
    S.I.M.P.L.F.Y.
    The basics do need to happen each day, but way too often we find the basics unattainable without an attitude adjustment on our part. I can’t paint daily like I promised myself I would (as a young art student) if I homeschool my 5 kids. I can’t do daily street ministry if my mom has a major stroke and needs care for the next decade.
    But I can get done what needs getting done if I am willing to let go of many standards –and free up my life 🙂

  6. Even someone coming over and megacooking with you would be a help. I used to help my friend with 8 kids do this. My kids would play with hers or change diapers, etc, too so we were unencumbered in the kitchen. We would clear ALL from the counters so we had lots of space. Both her older kids and mine would do stints in the kitchen but having 2 adults going fulltime those few hours rly made the difference. Also she cooked several chickens day before so they were ready to debone. If she had been chronically ill, I could have done this too.

  7. Thank you so much for sharing & for the useful advice. I think the decision fatigue was what I was struggling with, but didn’t have a name for it! Trying to do GAPS or SCD with no dairy for both kids, no eggs for one & then finding out from test results that my daughter was highly sensitive to honey & coconut demolished my diet plan. I freaked out, then my adrenal/thyroid issues that I didn’t know I had went full-blown crazy. I know that the menu planning was my biggest obstacle, but my brain just didn’t want to cooperate, and I struggled with trying to come up with just 4 days to keep a rotational diet – and not break the bank. My kids don’t like their foods mixed – like stews, casseroles, etc., so I’m not sure if I could do the month freezer meals, but it sure would be worth the try!

  8. Mommy Muddling

    I hate that this sounds overwhelming to me because this would indeed be an amazing help! Especially during times of depression such as I am experiencing now…it does give me hope though and I thank you for putting this all together. I am encouraged by your journey and pray for your good health!

  9. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your heart! I’m new to your blog but I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject. I’m currently struggling with depression and have 2 small children. I’m overwhelmed when it comes to meals because my 4 year old has only a handful of foods he likes and rarely enjoys dinner. I feel like I want to give up on meal planning – can you share your 7 meals? Maybe there is something I could use. I can think of 2 meals that I make that my son will eat – thank you so much!! It’s such a blessing from the Lord to know I’m not alone!

  10. Love this, thanks for sharing. I too have struggled with depression since my second child was born. There are times when meals and meal planning gets very overwhelming for me, partially due to my love for cooking and trying new healthy recipes. I just started making freezer meals and planning 2 weeks at a time, I do like the idea to simplify more!!

  11. You know I just want to thank you for writting this, so many bloggers write as if their lives are perfect ALL THE TIME, like every day 365 days a year and I always wonder how do they do this, do they never have a down period. I have four kids and I know all of us have down times regardless of who we are, just having one kid sick and getting no sleep all night can completely affect your next day. I had shingles as a 12 year old and it was brought on by stress from my grandfather dying, I know how it feels it is awful and would send anyone into a bout of depression, I cannot imagine having shingles and trying to cook and take care of children, even at age 12 I just remember being in bed all day and completely relying on my mom for two weeks. So hey give yourself a break combined with that moving! We just moved across the country for my husbands job and were living in a teeny weeny apartment, moving away from everything you know and getting completely reset is also enought to have a mild onset of depression LOL ( I know) so thank you so much for sharing this and great idea with the 7 meals ahead plan, sometimes keeping things simple is best.

    1. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Thank you for sharing a bit of YOUR story, Ariel! You say you can’t imagine having shingles as an adult, but I can’t imagine having it as a kid. 😉

      And thanks for your kind words and encouragement. You’re right: sometimes keeping things simple IS best.

  12. I absolutely love this plan of 7 meals x 4. Can’t wait to try it! It is so simple but I never thought of this. I guess because I was rebelling against the same old every week. But you know, we’ve end up doing the same old emergency meals anyway but at the last minute like you said and they are mostly frozen meals or deli pizzas which aren’t healthy for us. Thanks!

    1. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Marie B. – So glad to help give you inspiration for your meal-planning! You’ll have to check back in with us and let us know which 7 you picked for your family. I’m working on our list right now. 🙂

  13. I got a lump in my throat at the part about your friend cooking for you. What a great friend! I love how you simplified and just stuck with 7 meals. I think we make things too hard for ourselves sometimes, and our familes don’t even want it. There can be a comfort in eating the same thing, and honestly, most of the world eats that way.

    1. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Thank you for your encouragement, Karen. She really is an incredible friend and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to her.

      We’ve certainly learned the blessing of eating repetitively. And you’re right about the rest of the world. I once heard it said that there really isn’t such a thing as “American” food, as much as the American diet is the ability to eat anything without forced repetition.

      I’m thankful for the variety of the seven meals and that my family has fully embraced it!

      -Bethany

    1. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Mel –

      I wish I had learned about it earlier, too! 🙂 It’s been an unspeakable blessing to us for sure.

  14. Eva Van Strijp

    This is a great read! Really helpful, simple but smart way to keep your family fed during difficult periods. Thanks for sharing your experience and tips, Bethany.

  15. I dealt with depression and anxiety while pregnant, so even though it’s not the same, I understand, and I appreciate your openness! During my worst days, my slow cooker was a godsend. I usually had times of day (like in the morning or right after a meal) when I was feeling more positive and energetic. I planned on starting something in the slow cooker then so I’d have very little to do when it was time to eat.

    I hope things improve for you soon and that God turns the suffering into something beautiful!

    1. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement, Kim. I love how God uses hard moments/seasons to refine us in beautiful ways.

      And what a great idea to use your slow cooker during your window of energetic activity!

      -Bethany

  16. I have done research on vitamin D. The prescription is useless, sorry. You need to boost your D3. Please do some research for yourself. I was taking 10,000 IU a day for 365 days between blood work and my most recent blood work (Nove. ’15) still showed I was below normal. Even though I am below normal, I am feeling so much better. I have boosted my D3 to 15,000 IU every other day to see if I can get it to the normal range. It is difficult to reach D3 toxicity, the one documented case that I found, was someone who was taking 60,000 IU for a long time. Everyone is different, but you will find that physicians will, across the board slap people on D2, 50,000 IU for a limited amount of time, why because it will provide some relief. It’s crap, but it will keep you coming back ($$$ Office visit charges), I’ve been through this. Good luck!

    1. Yes, Michelle, it is very important to be taking the correct form of D!! Though these days there is a lot of evidence against supplementing at all. We don’t really need high levels of vitamin D. HTMA is a great tool for assessing what you really need. I found that my calcium levels were so high and vitamin A so low that taking Vitamin D actually made things much worse and had to make sure I wasn’t taking any supplemental vitamin D. It is important to understand the correct forms but also what each individual needs in the context of all of the other vitamins and minerals, not just a single vitamin.

    2. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Michelle —

      I am working with a good doctor who has me on a prescription strength D3. And I can notice the difference between doses, for sure. The bloodwork is also showing some great improvements, so I know it is doing something. I had been taking cod liver oil faithfully for years and it did nada. So in this case, I’m thankful for the D3. 🙂

      -Bethany

  17. What a wonderful friend you have! Just knowing that must have brightened your world a bit… I have been dithering about OAMM for a while now, thinking it would take too much to get started, but having read this article, think I might take the plunge soon. I’m in the middle of a project right now, but should be done the end of next week, so 1st March is looking good. Hope things are better now, good luck to us both!

    1. Bethany Wright (Contributing Writer)

      Mrs_MG —

      You’ll have to let us know what you have decided now that March is here. Hopefully OAMM will be a blessing to you. 🙂 I know cooking monthly has been a blessing to me!

      -Bethany

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